Neither French nor Prussians went into late September with many troops in the replacement depots and the meager results reflected that leanness. Each army rebuilt one cadre into a division. French authorities scrapped a fourth line division, a weak brigade, a poor regiment, and a modest colonial brigade from the replacement pool. Belgian forces continued their free dip into the Entente equipment pool to upgrade yet another rifle division. British forces contented themselves with the arrival of a couple of Canadian battalions and the organization for conversion of a couple of divisions.
With the German drive into France already temporarily stopped almost dead in its tracks, Entente forces confined their movements to shifting forces, largely in an effort to help the now vulnerable Belgians. Along the front line from Verdun to Switzerland, French forces rationalized their positions and leaned almost imperceptibly leftward toward the Channel. Between Verdun and Maubeuge, with the German drive likely to still grind forward at the rate of two victories per month, French forces reformed their line and reserves yet again and prepared for another couple of weeks of delaying action. Eventually the Meuse River will probably form the front in this sector and the French don’t want to lose it by arriving there too soon. In and around Maubeuge, French forces once again reworked their defensive arrangements to throw a new garrison into the fortress without leaving their main line vulnerable and while maintaining a non overrunable second line. The new sacrificial lamb, six
ty points, was three rifle divisions and three non-divisional units to accompany the local artillery.
It was around the curve of the line from Maubeuge to Antwerp where the Entente made significant changes in their posture. Belgian forces evacuated fifteen miles along the Scheldt River just inside Belgium in order to strengthen and rationalize their positions into a sixty-five mile block of front from Antwerp straight west along the Scheldt. With unreasonable luck, the river, and fieldworks this position could conceivably hold the Germans at bay. The Germans, stymied in their drive southwest, would surely now look toward the Belgian coast, screened from them only by a too weak Belgian river defense with no second line; there would almost certainly be a breakthrough there and a new chance for mobile warfare. Be that as it may, British forces duly followed the Belgian lead by evacuating thirty miles of front on their right/southwest flank, occupying the emptied Belgian positions on the left, and forming a complete second line behind the now narrower British sector as well as behind the leftmost flank of the French line. The French then took advantage of troops recently arrived and released to extend their positions into the sector left open by the British.
There would be no Entente offensive action; no affordable concentration of Entente forces could make a useful attack on the immensely strong Germans. British and French aerial harassment did, once again, force German reconnaissance aircraft to spend their time dodging air-dropped rocks rather than spotting the fall of shot for German ground offensives.
Where the Entente failed to attack due to weakness, most of the German front remained inactive due to simple lethargy. Six German armies failed their reaction rolls, starting near Switzerland and continuing all the way through 2nd Army on the Franco-Belgian border. 1st Army saved the day for the Germans, stirring its subordinates to action for an optimal attack against Maubeuge and a not-quite-optimal attack on the Belgians.
The struggle for Maubeuge has become a weekly feature of the war since late August, and this player-turn was no exception. A mass of German forces, including almost the entire siege train excepting any siege mortar units, occupies 5/6’s of the frontage around the beleaguered fortress and is making a continuous succession of assaults against the place. In one arm only are the Germans starting to feel the pinch; combat engineer casualties are increasing steadily and well beyond any hope of near-term replacement of those specialized men. Finally, the French have in late September succeeded in strengthening the place such that its loss under direct assault is unlikely. In this Fourth Battle of Maubeuge sixty points of French defenders dealt a significant defeat to an adjusted 264 points of German attackers. German forces in this battle lacked any notably influential leaders and, as noted, any aerial assistance. Beyond those non-advantages, two engineer regiments botched their attack and were wiped out in the opening hours of the battle while defensive fire stopped two more regiments short of their objectives. After finally failing an incremental roll-up of odds, a BX result left more German dead on the field than French dead in bunkers. German forces suffered two 16-18-5 divisions reduced to cadre (7-8-5) while French forces suffered 10-13-6 (Army of Africa) and 8-11-5 divisions reduced (4-6-6 and 3-5-5) plus two 1-3-2 machinegun regiments destroyed. Both sides in this struggle spent copious amounts of ammunition, and though the Germans could have spent more it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.
Events turned more favorably for the Germans in their newly opened drive against the Belgians toward the English Channel. In the face of lethargy in some sectors, First Army could only spur and spare one strong corps for an attack across the Scheldt, but it was enough. A modified fifty-six points of Germans stormed across the river to hit fifteen points of Belgians in fieldworks in 0619, adjacent to Antwerp to the west. Belgian forces spent their last stockpile of ammunition prodigally but couldn’t turn back the attack, which enjoyed a successful cavalry charge and rolled its 3.7:1 up to 4:1; the usual DR transformed into the usual HX and German ZOC’s finished off the Belgian cadre as it fled. German forces suffered 10-6-7 cavalry division reduced while the Belgians lost 9-12-5 division and 2-3-4 heavy artillery battalion.
The implications of that Belgo-German battle are interesting. Antwerp is cut-off but should only fall in September if the Germans pull significant forces away from the main front in order to put in a really strong attack against a position that could be starved out. The Belgians bothered to hold the suicidal position because of significant reinforcements (most especially the training and replacement forces garrison that would otherwise just be eliminated) due to appear there in October, but the only real hope of that was in a German attack across the Scheldt that rolled a “1” and AQ’d itself rather then rupture irredeemably the Belgian position. If the line had to break, 0619 was the perfect place from the Entente point of view as the Belgians still have a cork in the bottle formed by the Scheldt line and the Dutch border. It isn’t much of a cork now but it could grow usefully in exploitation now that the threat axis is more certain. In any case, that the rupture came so far east makes it plausible that the Entente could hang on to a corner of Belgium into bad weather and might even manage to hold Oostende for a while. Finally, of course, that the Germans must and will commit large forces to clear the remainder of Belgium can only make more likely that the Entente will continue to hold such worthwhile assets as Lille and the northeastern France industrial and mining resources.
In the wake of successful if not devastating German attacks carried out amidst the latest Entente reorganization in northeastern France and northwestern Belgium, the Entente exploitation phase was an event of real operational significance in late September 1914. A German attack having HX’d the Belgians at St. Niklaas, the Belgians pulled almost their entire army into 0620 in an attempt to keep tight the cork in the bottleneck through which could pour the Germans into Oostende, Ypres, and the French ports along the narrows of the English Channel. The gendarme cavalry division did not over stack, instead remaining behind the line on straggler duty, and a weak corps remained trapped in Antwerp, but every other Belgian formation in Europe crammed into the fieldworks and behind the Scheldt River on the right flank of their national position. In their turn, the still un-blooded British pulled their second line divisions into their first line and shifted their position eastward fifteen miles to cover the vacated half of the Belgian sector while French forces stretched still further to cover the removing British. As significantly but more expectedly, another fresh French corps, and an elite one at that, slipped into the cauldron of Maubeuge while the previous battle’s survivors marched proudly out of that fortress and second line forces stiffened the line all across that sector.
Central Powers Turn
Both German and French high commands in latest September tightened their grips on the flow of replacements in reaction to unexpectedly high expenditures of manpower. French forces could have but did not rebuild any cadres while British forces have yet to find serious combat and Belgian depots stood utterly empty in the wake of recent upgrades. Advance instructions from Falkenhayn sent replacements to a pair of engineer regiments of the Prussian contingent but various cadres waited and watched in vain for their draughts of fresh men, who spent the days in idle tourism of southern Belgian breweries.
German movement in late September was both massive and simple. A wide array of fortress garrison units mobilized all across Germany and the vast majority of them boarded trains for trips straight into the fighting line in Belgium. Seventy-five regimental loads of trains were not nearly enough for the high command conductors, who left ammunition stockpiled throughout the Reich besides sending a few brigades of troops foot marching toward the sound of the guns. Most especially, German forces massed for attacks against the Belgians in 0620 while second rate forces filled and backfilled slots in the lines around Maubeuge. In a secondary effort, several corps of Germans massed around the linear salient and important iron mining complex at Longwy.
When it came, the mass carnage sensibly forecast for this German push did not nearly match the vast death and destruction actually wrought by it. In three battles, all of them major efforts, German forces faired all three times almost as poorly as it was possible for them to perform.
Affairs started worthily enough with a stout thrashing of the Belgians in 0620. Aerial reconnaissance failed to contribute usefully to this battle, not unexpectedly, and a divisional cavalry charge ran headlong into massed rifle fire and came apart at the seams, also not unexpectedly. With 10*-6-7 heavy cavalry division already reduced to cadre and the German and Belgian expenditures of RP each presaging carnage, a 3.8:1 attack rolled up to 4:1 and scored a full exchange despite fieldworks and the augmented but still inferior morale of the Belgians. Belgian forces suffered, in this disaster, 3-1-4 siege II, 0-1-4 engineer [III], 2*-3-5 rifle X, and 1-3-2 static [XX] totally eliminated; reduced to cadre were 9-12-6 light XX (4*-5-6), two 9-12-5 rifle XX’s (4*-5-5), 6*-9-5 rifle XX (2*-4-5), and 6*-4-7 cavalry XX (2*-1-7). German forces felt the pinch too, with two 15-17-5 rifle XX (7*-8-5), 14-16-5 rifle XX (6*-7-5), and 13-15-5 rifle XX (6*-7-5) reduced to cadre.
With that victory under their belts, the grieving but proud Germans switched their focus to the iron mines at Longwy. A modified two hundred forty-eight points of Germans in three corps assaulted the defenders in their fieldworks. Lavish German ammunition expenditures were unmatched by the niggardly French, who used the mines and machinery as extra traps and fortifications (German RP spent, -1 to attack due to resource center). Without any assistance from the air, from cavalry, or from focused staff work the Germans blundered forward to score an AQ on 6:1 -2. German forces suffered 2x 16-18-5 (7*-8-5), 2x 15-17-5 (7*-8-5), and 6*-9-4 (2*-4-4) divisions reduced to cadre; the last enumerated being Wurtemberger and the others Prussian.
Amazingly, news of the Longwy disaster barely registered on German newspapers; events at Maubeuge far overshadowed such little crises as the loss of only a thirty-five thousand men. The Fifth Battle of Maubeuge proceeded in usual fashion, except that German forces consisted of a lower quality formation as a dozen or so of the best first line rifle divisions, artillery regiments, and light regiments had shifted north to fight the Belgians and been backfilled with such trophies as rifle and static brigades and reserve divisions. Still, these formations are the equal of first-line French units on the whole. Unfortunately for the Germans, what lay before them in Maubeuge was decidedly not merely first-line; probably the best corps that the French will field in the current war lurked ready to strike from the bunkers and turrets of the fortress. A massive ammunition expenditure on both sides merely increased the misery without adding decisive effect and other German efforts played
equally unsuccessfully; aerial reconnaissance, leader intervention, and one of two engineering attempts failed to influence the battle. By itself, one successful engineering coup could not save the assault force; several divisions lost their headquarters and artillery lines to infiltrators and the assault found itself pushing endlessly forward, herd-like into the guns. German forces scored AX on 4:1 -2 and suffered horribly.
2x 16-18-5 rfl XX 3x 16-18-5 rfl XX
15-17-5 rfl XX 15-17-5 rfl XX
4*-6-5 rfl cadre 12-14-5 rfl XX
1-2-5 eng III 2x 11-13-5 rfl XX
10-12-5 rfl XX
7*-10-5 rfl XX
4*-5-5 rfl X
Such devotion did not go unrewarded as the attackers carried the fortress by shear weight of numbers. French forces, totally eliminated, were:
10*-13-5 lt mtn XX (COL)
2x 10*-13-5 lt rfl XX (COL)
3-10-0 art XX
2-3-7 lt X
2x 3-2-7 lt III (FOR)
And the fortress could not be regained in subsequent moves by the French, being adjacent to their forces on only a fifteen mile front, so that the French public also had to swallow the bitter pill of its loss after such long suffering.
Entente reaction to German aggression was as passive as it always has been to date. Two southern French armies adjusted forces slightly. The British failed to react so that the successful Belgians could not back off the line as they had desired, but it didn’t matter very much anyway as the Belgian cadres remained non-overrunable. The French armies that could not even have launched attacks against loss-weakened German forces remained utterly quiet, perhaps in shock at having caused so much damage to the enemy already.
German exploitation was equally minor: a few cadres moved off the line and other forces merely glared across the lines at their local opponents.